Saturday, February 8, 2014

President Obama: A Year of Action: Pursuing Opportunity for All

UK trial proves peanut allergy can be beaten

A study of British children suffering from peanut allergy has shown that most can overcome their serious intolerance with a six month program of gradual exposure to the legume. Eleven-year-old Lena Barden was one of 85 children exposed to steadily increasing measures of peanut protein and can now eat five per day with no ill-effect.

Jab Koi Pyar Say - Mehdi Hassan

Understanding High Blood Pressure : Blood Pressure Chart Infographic

The first or blue section of the blood pressure chart below explains the systolic and the diastolic pressure, the two pressures used for expressing blood pressure ranges.
As shown in the blue section of the chart, blood pressure ranges are typically shown with the systolic number before or above the diastolic pressure, e.g. 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury).
The systolic pressure is the reading when the heart pumps blood out of the ventricle into the veins. The diastolic pressure is the resting pressure, between heartbeats as the pressure goes down ahead of the next heart pumping action. The second section of the chart shows the different blood pressure range categories and their corresponding readings. More information on blood pressure ranges and other blood pressure information resources. The third section of the blood pressure chart gives lifestyle change recommendations to manage high blood pressure with approximate systolic blood pressure reduction.

Right to education: FATA students demand destroyed schools be rebuilt

The Express Tribune
The FATA Students Organisation (FSO) on Thursday demanded the government take tangible steps for the reconstruction of destroyed educational institutions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and provide basic facilities to students. Students from the tribal areas protested outside the Peshawar Press Club holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands.
Addressing the rally, FSO President Shaukat Aziz and General Secretary Haroon Khan said education is supposed to be the backbone of development and peace, but a lack of education has hampered progress in Fata. They claimed a majority of schools and colleges in the region have been closed for several years while some have been rented out to NGOs by the political administration. They also blamed security forces for establishing check posts and bases in college buildings in various agencies, depriving children of their rights. Aziz said shortage of teaching staff is a substantial hurdle in the way of education, adding immediate measures should be taken so the intellectual growth of tribal children is not stunted.
Protesters demanded the governor and relevant political agents to reopen all closed educational institutions and take tangible steps for reconstruction of destroyed schools and colleges in the tribal areas. They also demanded an increase in quota of students from Fata in educational institutions in the rest of the country, and called for an increase in their annual scholarships.

Balochistan’s long night

THE discovery of mass graves in the restive Khuzdar district of Balochistan late last month opened an ugly new chapter in a long-running and sordid tale. With a Supreme Court-mandated inquiry committee to present its findings at the next hearing in Islamabad on March 7, the details are still quite scarce. Whose bodies were found and how they were killed and by whom is yet to be officially determined. But the mere existence of mass graves suggests that the long alleged policy of kill-and-dump by the security agencies of Baloch nationalists is far bigger and more pernicious than perhaps previously understood in many quarters. And therein lies the ongoing tragedy and seemingly impossible conundrum of Balochistan: how to wrest security policy in the province from the army-led security establishment?
Unhappily, the early promise — or maybe it was just hope — shown by the National Party-led coalition government in Balochistan is dissipating. As ever, the language used by the provincial and federal governments is unimpeachable and hewn to common sense and the genuine national interest. But words have rarely, if at all, been backed by action. Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch may want to reach out to Baloch separatists and in that he may have the support of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but no provincial government can get anything done — let alone something so fundamental and seminal as a peace process — if it is at war with itself. And, despite the acute tensions being papered over repeatedly, there is no doubt that Sanaullah Zehri, the PML-N provincial chief who was asked to sacrifice his ambition to become chief minister for the greater good as Mr Sharif saw it, and the supporters of Mr Zehri, are simply unwilling to let the Balochistan government function at all. Having said that, however, neither has Mr Malik shown the kind of leadership that the National Party long pledged it would bring to government.
Meanwhile, while the Supreme Court has doggedly pursued the case of the missing persons and put pressure on the security establishment to end human rights abuses and gross violations of the law, the courts are really not the vehicle that can achieve a state policy turnaround on their own. The only viable road to peace is known to one and all and, with the obsessive pursuit of dialogue with the TTP, should hardly be controversial: the separatists have to be brought back into the mainstream through dialogue and negotiations. But for that to happen, there has to be serious political will demonstrated by the provincial and federal governments. That will simply is not apparent at the moment. The problem is, let a problem fester for too long and a conflagration becomes more likely.

Hillary Clinton Leads Possible 2016 Presidential Pack

Afghanistan Continues to Be Hub of Poppy Cultivation

Syrians hold pro-government demos in Damascus, Homs

People in Syria have held mass rallies to show their support for President Bashar al-Assad and the army. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the capital Damascus and its countryside on Saturday.
They expressed support for President Assad and the Syrian army forces in their fight against terrorism and foreign-backed militants. Pro-government demonstrations were also held in the western city of Homs and its countryside. On February 2, Syrians also took to the streets of Damascus and the town of Nabek in support of the government. Similar rallies have frequently been staged in the country during the past couple of years. The pro-government demonstrations came as 83 people, including children and women, were evacuated from Homs as part of a three-day ceasefire brokered by the UN between the Syrian army and the foreign-backed militants. The deal also allows the entrance of humanitarian assistance for civilians who choose to stay, while the two sides have also agreed on a pause in fighting as the deal is being implemented. Meanwhile, thousands of Syrians have returned home in the town of Muadamiyat al-Sham, located in Rif Dimashq Province near Damascus, following a ceasefire deal between the two sides of the conflict. Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. Some sources say more than 130,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the violence fueled by Western-backed militants.

Turkey police use tear gas to disperse protest against new internet controls

Turkish police have fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds of protesters rallying against “draconian” internet laws approved by parliament. Police approached the crowd along Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue and fired water cannons from behind armored vehicles as protesters tried to march to the city’s main square.
"Everywhere is bribery, everywhere is corruption," protesters chanted.
As riot police fired water cannons at protesters, some of them responded by throwing stones or setting off fireworks aimed at law enforcement officers. The new bill was passed late Wednesday by the parliament dominated by the Erdogan’s AKP party. If the president approves the legislation, it would give authorities the power to block web pages without a court order within just hours. It would also require internet service providers (ISPs) to store data on their clients’ online activities for two years and provide it to the authorities on request.
However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected any possibility that the regulations would allow authorities to have access to internet users' personal information. "Never. It is out of the question that people's private data will be recorded," he said in Istanbul on Saturday. The opposition says the move is part of a government bid to stifle a corruption scandal and accuses the government of limiting Internet freedoms. Erdogan denies accusations of censorship, saying the legislation would make the internet "more safe and free.” "These regulations do not impose any censorship at all on the Internet ... On the contrary, they make it safer and freer," he said. Prepared by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the bill provoked mass rallies in mid-January, shortly after it was announced. The protest was dispersed by riot police who used water cannons and tear gas against hundreds of opponents of the bill. The bill amends Law No. 5651, widely known as Turkey’s Internet Law that came into effect in July 2007.

پښتونخوا او سیمه په تېره اونۍ کې

Several Killed As Bad Weather Strikes Afghanistan, Central Asia
At least 19 people have been killed after heavy snow blanketed parts of Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asian states. The deputy governor of Afghanistan's northwestern province of Jowzjan, Abdul Rahman Mahmoudi, said on February 5 that heavy snow fell from January 31 to late on February 4 and it has been blamed for the deaths of 14 local residents, including five children. In Tashkent, the capital of neighboring Uzbekistan, snow caused a plane to slip off a runway on February 5. No one was hurt in the incident. Another plane in neighboring Tajikistan's southern city of Kulob also skidded off a runway on February 3 due to heavy snow. No one was hurt there either. All Tajik schools and universities have been closed until February 10. Meanwhile, in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, avalanches caused by heavy snowfall have killed five people over the past several days.

Taliban and Government Imperil Gains for Afghan Women, Advocates Say

Advocates say that women’s rights and security in Afghanistan are under mounting assault from all sides — the Taliban insurgency and the government alike — putting at risk 12 years of hard-won gains for women here.
The country’s Parliament is about to approve legislation that would strip away crucial legal protections. The insurgents have mounted a string of violent attacks on female officials. And advocates for women are deeply worried by the news that President Hamid Karzai has been negotiating secretly with the Taliban, who enforced hard-line, fundamentalist restrictions on women during their years in power.
And the advocates see two potential disasters looming for Afghan women this year. One would be the failure to complete a long-term security agreement with the United States, which could lead to the departure of American and other international forces and aid agencies, by far the strongest proponents for women here.
The other is the election in April to choose Mr. Karzai’s successor. The slates of many of the 11 candidates for president are dominated by warlords and fundamentalists who share the Taliban’s view that women should never be allowed out of their homes.
“Women are not on the agenda now,” said Huma Safi, an activist with Equality for Peace and Democracy, an advocacy group. “Every time we turn around, they’re passing another law against women.”
The killings of four female police officers since July and the abductions of and assassination attempts against female members of Parliament and their families in Ghazni Province last year have aroused concerns that the Taliban are singling out women for violence and intimidation, though all government officials, male or female, can expect to become targets. The moves in Parliament, on the other hand, seem like attacks from out of nowhere, advocates say, with the potential to do much broader harm.
One of the proposed laws would have repealed a requirement that one-quarter of the seats on provincial councils be reserved for women. After intense lobbying, activists managed to get the bill amended to partly preserve the quota, at 20 percent instead of 25; it has been passed and now awaits the president’s signature. “The sworn enemies of women almost got the quota eliminated,” said Soraya Sobhrang, the representative for women on the national Human Rights Commission. They “have the power to pave the way for whatever law they want.”
Another proposal would make it easier for a father to arrange child marriages, giving fathers guardianship rights over children that trump those of mothers and the courts. A third would prohibit the nation’s courts from hearing testimony of one family member against another, a rule that would make it almost impossible to prosecute domestic violence and abuse cases. Both measures are seen as likely to pass, though the president could refuse to sign them. Manizha Naderi, the head of Women for Afghan Women, a group that runs a network of shelters and counseling centers for abused women and children, said the law on testimony “virtually provides impunity” to abusers within the family. Women at the shelters that her group and others run “include victims whose in-laws, husbands, fathers and sons have broken their arms and legs, chopped off lips, tongues and noses, pulled out fingernails, sold them, stabbed them and left them for dead,” Ms. Naderi said. The proposed law would prohibit even the victims in cases like those from testifying.
In the section on Afghanistan in its worldwide report for 2013, Human Rights Watch said, “With international interest in Afghanistan rapidly waning, opponents of women’s rights seized the opportunity to begin rolling back the progress made since the end of Taliban rule.”
One of the biggest supporters of the bills is a member of Parliament from Herat, Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, who derides female activists as women of low morals who are un-Islamic. “Those who are against these laws are people who own shelters, which are run like brothels,” Mr. Hanafi said. “These women have not helped women in Afghanistan, they have destroyed families.” “This is an Islamic country and women will be treated and respected in accordance with the guidance of Islam, not some communist, secular conspiracy,” Mr. Hanafi said. Ms. Naderi said she was anxious over Mr. Karzai’s pursuit of a deal with the insurgents. “If the Taliban come back, they’re going to come back with a vengeance, and they’ll take it out on the women,” Ms. Naderi said. With 28 facilities helping abused women and children in 10 provinces, Women for Afghan Women would be especially vulnerable, she said, “Our staff will be the first on the Taliban’s list to set an example for others.”
Other activists were not quite that alarmed, at least not yet.
“We are worried, but we are not without hope,” said Hasina Safi, head of the Afghan Women’s Network, an umbrella group of activist organizations. “We are much bigger in our numbers now, we have established networks, and we are not as isolated as we were in the Taliban time.”
Activists from the women’s network and other groups have held a round of meetings with Western embassies over the past three weeks, and they received what Ms. Safi said were oral assurances that financial assistance to Afghan women’s groups would not be cut; nearly all such groups depend on money from international donors. In all, more than $100 million a year in aid to Afghanistan is earmarked for women’s issues, the United Nations estimates. Ms. Safi said the absence of women from Mr. Karzai’s talks with the Taliban was a major concern. There are women on the country’s High Peace Council, but Ms. Safi said they had been paid little heed, and the council itself is not closely involved in the talks.
Nader Nadery, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, said women had gained political strength by building alliances. “Afghan women’s groups have moved from being individual voices,” Mr. Nadery said. “They are now a very powerful collective voice, if not a full-fledged movement, and it will be difficult for any politician to ignore them completely.”
Ms. Sobhrang, the representative on the Human Rights Commission, said 30 activists had drafted a charter on women’s rights that they plan to debate at a larger forum of female activists next week, and then use to assess candidates in the election, predicting that they would endorse one or two. That could make an impact in the crowded field. At least one-third of registered Afghan voters are women, and their advocacy groups tend to have more money and organizing experience than many of the inexperienced presidential campaigns. Ms. Sobhrang called the gains women have made since the ouster of Taliban rule in 2002 “fragile but reversible,” a phrase often used by American military leaders in a broader context. “We still haven’t brought fundamental change to the lives of women in Afghanistan,” she said.
Four weeks ago, the country got its first female police chief, Col. Jamila Bayaz, who was given command of the sprawling District 1 headquarters in Kabul.
Colonel Bayaz, who is one of 2,000 women who have joined or rejoined the police force since 2002, said she was aware of the concerns about retaining the gains women have made. She began her career 32 years ago, when women were as numerous in the police force as they are now, an accomplishment interrupted by civil war and the ascent of the Taliban. She does not think that will happen again.
“I’m sure our international friends will not abandon us,” the colonel said.

Report on Afghan Deaths Shows Shift in Conflict

The Afghan government’s share of blame for civilian casualties rose drastically last year, largely reflecting an intensification in the ground conflict between insurgents and Afghan troops, according to a new report from the United Nations released Saturday. The report highlighted how significantly the nature of the conflict has changed, as American and NATO forces handed over most of the responsibility for security to the Afghans last year. Despite a series of high-profile complaints by President Hamid Karzai, the United Nations’ 2013 Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict said that only 3 percent of civilian casualties were caused by international forces last year. At the same time, a decline in civilian deaths seen in 2012 was reversed, with 2,959 killed in 2013 — nearly the same as the civilian toll in the war’s worst year, 2011, the United Nations said. Overall, civilian casualties, totaling 8,615, were up by 14 percent in 2013 over 2012.
While the Taliban insurgents and their allies continued to cause by far the most civilian casualties — three-fourths of the total in 2013 — the report expressed concern about the rapid rise in the number of civilians killed in ground fighting between government and insurgent forces, as well as the increase in deaths attributed to government forces. Civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces increased 59 percent last year, while those arising from ground engagements rose 128 percent, the report said. While quick to criticize the Americans for episodes that killed civilians, Mr. Karzai has been far less outspoken on such actions by the insurgents and even by his own government’s forces, said Hadi Marifat, a Kabul spokesman for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, an advocacy group.
“He has been selectively highlighting cases of civilian casualties for political lobbies externally, but quite reluctant to criticize the casualties caused by the Taliban, and that is a concern for all of us; there is a need to depoliticize this issue,” Mr. Marifat said.
Adela Raz, a spokeswoman for Mr. Karzai, said his office had condemned deadly attacks carried out by insurgents as well as international forces. She said Mr. Karzai “has always said that civilian casualties should not only be decreased but completely ended.” She added, “The president’s position in this regard has always been clear.”
The International Security Assistance Force, as the American-led coalition is called, issued a statement praising the United Nations report, but adding that its “training mission includes instilling a culture of civilian casualty reduction within Afghan security ministries.” I.S.A.F. said that 7,500 Afghan security personnel had been trained since 2012 in detecting and counteracting improvised explosive devices, which, as in previous years, remain the single largest killer of civilians, according to the United Nations.
Last year, the second biggest killer of civilians became ground engagements — the year before, that dubious distinction went to suicide attacks — another indicator that government forces and insurgents were fighting many more ground battles than they had in the past, with civilians often caught between them.
“Afghan security forces’ lead responsibility for security brings with it increased responsibility for civilian protection,” Jan Kubis, the United Nations head in Afghanistan, said in a statement about the report. “It is critically important for Afghan forces to take all possible measures to protect civilians from the harms of conflict.” At a news conference, Mr. Kubis directed his harshest criticism at the Taliban insurgents, who he said were not only responsible for killing the most civilians, but also were the only party to the conflict that deliberately set out to harm civilians.
“I would like to stress the overwhelming majority is because of the activities and acts of the antigovernment elements, and these are the only elements that are targeting civilians, directly targeting civilians,” he said. “This is a major difference between them and those that are unfortunately killed in action, for example, of pro-government forces against antigovernment elements.” The Taliban have justified attacks on places like restaurants and mosques by saying the presence of pro-government figures there justified the killing of civilians. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, complained in a statement emailed to journalists that the United Nations had not given the insurgents an advance copy of the report, but asserted that such reports in the past had been “prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul but released under the name of the United Nations.” “While we reject this one-sided Unama report, our mujahedin have been seriously ordered by his excellency the emir of the faithful that they are required to avoid civilian casualties,” Mr. Mujahid said, referring to Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar by an honorific title. The United Nations report documented numerous instances, however, in which the insurgents deliberately hit civilian targets. It said the Taliban publicly claimed responsibility for 153 attacks that caused civilian casualties last year, three times the number of such claims in 2012. Those 2013 attacks killed 302 civilians. In addition, the insurgents continued a trend to increased numbers of attacks on what the United Nations considered civilians and other noncombatants, including elders, election workers and mullahs. Attacks on mullahs and religious sites tripled in 2013, with 27 episodes claiming 18 lives, including mullahs and religious scholars killed for expressing pro-government views, the report said. Mr. Kubis said the Taliban’s attacks on civilians “might border on war crimes.” He continued, “It is a violation of their obligations according to international humanitarian law, and they will be held accountable sooner or later.”

Pakistan's population explodes
Pakistan plans to slow South Asia's fastest population growth rate through enhanced education for women to ensure sustainable economic expansion for the world's sixth-most populous country. The country will try to reduce its population growth to 1.2 percent a year by 2025 from about 2 percent now, Ahsan Iqbal, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, said in an interview. The nation of about 196 million people each year adds some 4.4 million people, the equivalent of New Zealand's population, he said. "We actually need to apply brakes," Iqbal, a member of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's cabinet with an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said in his Islamabad office. "With this almost 2 percent growth rate it becomes very difficult to sustain your development." Pakistan joins Indonesia among Asian nations seeking to restrain burgeoning populations as slowing economic growth reduces job prospects. About a third of Pakistan's population is under the age of 15, putting pressure on the government to put them to work even as companies such as Nestle Pakistan Ltd. and Colgate-Palmolive see profits grow along with consumer demand.
"If we can give our young population the right education, right skills, it is a big demographic dividend for the next 10 to 15 years," Iqbal said. "If it doesn't happen it becomes a demographic disaster."
The government will focus on making planning programs available to married couples and prioritising education for women, he said. Growth at the current rate will strain natural resources and hinder growth, he said. Only about 30 percent of married couples use contraceptives in Pakistan, compared with 55 percent in neighbouring India and 73 percent in Iran, according to a finance ministry economic survey published last year. Pakistan's population grew about 2 percent, compared with 1.3 percent in India and 1 percent in Iran, it said. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants families to stop at two children to keep schools and services from being overwhelmed. The government is aiming to prevent the 250 million population from doubling by 2060. The policies of Pakistan and Indonesia, both majority Muslim nations, contrast with other Asian countries that are seeking more people. Singapore offers cash handouts and extended maternity leave to encourage its citizens to have more kids, while China has loosened its 34-year-old one-child policy that has saddled the nation with an aging labor force. While Pakistan's population growth is "out of control," a middle class of 55 million to 70 million people is helping to drive the $225 billion economy, according to Sakib Sherani, a former finance ministry adviser and now chief executive officer at Macroeconomic Insights, an Islamabad-based research firm. Even if it's a smaller middle class, it's really spending a lot," he said. "A lot of companies, both Pakistani companies and some foreign companies, are already benefiting from the consumer space." Nestle Pakistan Ltd., a unit of the world's biggest food company, reported a 26 percent increase in earnings for the year that ended December 2012, while Unilever Pakistan Ltd. profit surged 34 percent in the same period. Pakistan profits at Colgate, the world's largest toothpaste maker, had surged 39 percent in the year ended June 2012. Sharif's seven-month-old government is struggling to revive an economy hindered by power outages and a Taliban insurgency. Annual economic growth has slowed to 3 percent on average since 2008, below the 7 percent pace the Asian Development Bank says is needed to provide jobs for Pakistan's expanding work force. His administration has changed energy policies to tackle power shortages and averted the risk of a default on its foreign debt after the International Monetary Fund agreed to provide a three-year, $6.6 billion bailout package last year. Currency reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan have fallen about 60 percent to $3.7 billion on Jan. 2 from a year earlier, central bank data show. The government has "at least been successful in applying brakes to the very fast nose-dive the economy was taking," Iqbal said. "If those brakes had not been applied, we'd be in sheer chaos today."

Pakistan: Extremist threats hamper Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder trial

Extremist threats have hampered the murder trial of Pakistan's former minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was gunned down in Islamabad in March 2011, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) said Saturday. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, had been a vocal opponent of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in a country where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim and can carry the death penalty. “Threatening pamphlets claiming to be from the Punjabi Taliban were found in the office of our key witness, whose name cannot be disclosed for security,” Shamoon Gill, spokesman of APMA, told AFP. He said the pamphlets had warned the witness to “stay away from the case or get ready to be eliminated along with his family.” “He is terrified, he continues changing his place and faces serious life threats,” Gill said. The witness is supposed to appear before an anti-terrorism court on February 19. Paul Bhatti, brother of the former minority minister who had also served as a federal minority minister after his brother was gunned down, is the complainant in the case. He is currently in Italy after facing warnings from extremists that he too would be murdered. His lawyer Rana Abdul Hameed said his absence from the country has affected progress of the case. Hameed said he too had received death threats but would stand up to extremists and bring the trial to its logical conclusion. “I constantly receive death threats but I have pledged myself to pursue the case,” he said. Hameed also represented Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who fled to Canada with her family last year after the charges were dropped. “Pamphlets are dropped in my office warning me to disassociate myself from the case” he said. “They say you freed Rimsha, now you are trying to convict our comrades, you should be taught a lesson,” he added. “Paul Bhatti is abroad, he cannot come to Pakistan, our witness has been threatened, we are receiving constant threats, what can you then expect from the case, it won't go anywhere,” he added. Pakistan's tough blasphemy laws have attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently abused to settle personal scores. Last month, a 69-year-old British-Pakistani with dual nationality was sentenced to death for blasphemy. In 2011, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated for demanding that the blasphemy law be reformed. Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, remains in prison after being sentenced to death in November 2010 in a blasphemy case.

Balochistan mass graves: Three previously abducted Balochs' bodies identified
Chairman, Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, Naseerullah Baloch has warned that if the lingering issue of missing persons is not resolved, till the long march arrive in Islamabad, the next destination of the long march will be Geneva. Addressing a press conference at the Balochistan House on Friday, he informed that around 100 bodies have been recovered from a mass grave in Khuzdar and among them three person have been identified as missing persons. Citing DC Khuzdar, who he said had claimed that 25 disfigured bodies had been recovered, Baloch said actual figure is more than 100. He blamed the gunfire was opened when the heirs tried to reach the mass grave. He blamed the access of media and human rights bodies have been denied to these graves. He claimed the mass graves were also recovered in Pishin and Panjgor, and further claimed the existence of torture cell of local death squad near to these graves. He said we moved to Supreme Court but Balochistan govt and the lawyers of the secret agencies are causing unnecessary delays to these cases and presenting wrong facts and figures in the apex court. He slammed the United States and human rights organisations for their silence over the state of affair. He blamed that in fact agencies are running the affairs in Balochistan. He called for stepping down of the Balochistan government. He showed his no confidence on the commissions constituted for the recovery of the missing persons blaming that the statement recorded for the missing persons was often found missing from the record. Coming hard the Defence Minister Khawaja Asif who he said made a false promise with them for the recovery of missing persons and blamed him supporting the secret agencies in the Supreme Court. He said that the long march has reached Multan. The participants of the long march particularly women and children are being given tough time by the secret agencies. To a question, he said bodies of three persons who had been recovered from a mass grave were identified as Qadir Bux s/o Muskan, Muhammad Naseer and Muhammad Umar, whereas rest of the bodies were mutilated and beyond recognition. To another question, he said we do not have any confidence on Pakistani institutions and therefore, we are demanding the support from an international body for their cause. Yet to another question, he replied the recovery of the missing persons is a matter of day if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shows his sincerity on the issue. Responding to a question, he said that legal action should be taken against any person if he is an accused his name is in the list of missing persons. Nasrullah Baloch said the long march had reached Multan, he alleged that the participants, women and children among them, are being given tough time by the secret agencies.

America and Balochistan

The Baloch Hal
Rep. Louie Gohmert made a passionate speech in the U.S. House of Representatives about the recently found mass graves in Balochistan. While reading from an article published in the Toronto Sun, Mr. Gohmert criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for welcoming a high-level delegation of Pakistani officials in Washington D.C. days after the discovery of mass graves for which the Amnesty International has blamed the Pakistani State.
He informed the House that Pakistani had been mercilessly killing the Baloch for decades in order to control the region’s natural resources. Since most of the supplies to NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan pass from Balochistan, Mr. Gohmert proposed that the United States should support a free Baloch state. He made this demand days after meeting with exiled Baloch leaders Hairbayar Marri and Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat, in London. According to one report, State Department officials also accompanied Mr. Gohmert during his meeting with the Baloch leaders.
Mr. Gohmert made some very important remarks in his speech which the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon should pay attention to. “We don’t have to pay people to hate us,” he said while referring to Pakistan, “they’ll do it for free.” This statement perfectly fits in Pakistan’s context which willingly provides support and protection to dreaded terrorists that aspire to destroy the United States. According to Daniel Wickham of Left Foot Forward, a British blog that provides evidence-based analysis, Pakistan ranks No. 4 in an index of countries that receive American assistance yet routinely practice torture.
Since the landmark hearing at the U.S. Congress in February 2012 about Balochistan, members of the Congress such as Mr. Gohmert, Dana Rohrabacher, Steve King, all Republicans, have frequently spoken up against Pakistan’s torturous methods against the unarmed Baloch civilians. The support for the Baloch from a few congressmen is deeply laudable although insufficient considering American’s influence on global politics. Democracy and human rights should be taken in a bipartisan manner. The Democrats, on the other hand, have unfortunately not spoken up in support of the Baloch people. America’s liberal congressmen and voters have an obligation to know where their tax-payers’ money is going and how it is being spent. Providing American assistance to abusive and repressive States such as Pakistan absolutely contradicts the American values of democracy, human rights and freedom.
It is hard to fathom what prevents the State Department from either conditioning aid to Pakistan in spite of widespread evidence that Pakistan uses American assistance to further arm Islamic extremist groups and crush the freedom-loving people such as the Baloch. While we are mindful of American interests, concerns and limitations while dealing with Pakistan in the wake of the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan, it is important to cultivate relations in the region with the Baloch people who believe in secular, democratic values. Pakistani authorities have been tightening their grip over Balochistan. Even democratic governments apply a dictatorial method to deal with the Baloch. For example, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government recently passed an highly objectionable law, Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, which legalizes, instead of criminalizing, enforced disappearances. Pakistani military and s0-called democratic governments have subjected thousands of political opponents to forced disappearance in Balochistan.
We deeply admire Mr. Gohmert for condemning Pakistan’s treatment of the Baloch. He did what would generally be expected of an American Congressman whose country is perceived across the world as the epicenter of democracy, human rights and freedom. The current U.S. policies clearly indicate that policymakers in Foggy Bottom are utterly disconnected from the ground realities in places like Pakistan. They are providing financial assistance to people who are engaged in torture and murder without the fear of ever being held accountable for their actions. Ignoring an ally’s [Pakistan] involvement in human rights undermines the very core values of democracy. We hope that more members of the U.S. congress, irrespective of their party affiliation, will join Mr. Gohmert’s ranks to express zero tolerance for the misuse of American assistance; use of torture to deal with political dissent by all countries, particularly the ones that are viewed as “allies” in Washington.

Pakistan: A halt in US drone strikes

In the ongoing saga of ‘peace talks’ with the terrorists who have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, the administration in Washington is apparently doing all it can to facilitate the negotiations process. The US has informally agreed to halt drone strikes in the midst of these talks, carrying out strikes against senior al Qaeda or Taliban cadres only if high-profile targets become available or if there is a “direct threat to US persons”. That the superpower, which usually exercises its own will and discretion, has taken some initiative to support the dialogue process is welcome, if only for the fact that it seems the government in Pakistan and the administration in the US seem to be on the same page. According to a report in The Washington Post, the Nawaz Sharif government has been talking about halting the drone strikes in Pakistan since it took office in June last year. The government has been harking on about how the drones are in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty — the double standards are mindboggling. Our sovereignty was compromised the moment we allowed foreign fighters to use our soil to launch attacks in Afghanistan and against our own citizens. This kind of duplicity will simply not stand; we must at least have the courage to call a spade a spade. Meanwhile PTI chief Imran Khan can be seen quite smug because he believes his protests and cries against the drones have led to this ‘ceasefire’. One doubts Washington will lend an ear to him; the Nawaz government has been working overtime to see an end to the drones and, it seems, it may have gotten its way at least partially as the US government has conceded that it does not want to sabotage the talks like what happened when it took out Hakeemullah Mehsud in November.
This is all well and good while we play at proposing peace with murderers. However, it would be just as well to remember that these criminals with whom we wish to strike a deal have a bad track record when it comes to talks. They have used these to their advantage in the past to regroup and re-strengthen themselves. The drone strikes by the US were the only thorn in their side because they have been precise and on the mark in taking out their high value Taliban and al Qaeda targets. Now that the government has managed to convince the US to pause these as well, we have provided the militants with the perfect opportunity to reconsolidate themselves. The Taliban have sent a negotiating team to speak on their behalf while they continue with their attacks against the state — a blast in Khanewal killed two elite force officers yesterday. We are playing into terrorist hands and seem to have duped the US into doing so too.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Expanding Opportunity for the American People